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Phillipa Martyr: Trust: where rubber hits the road

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The Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
The Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Advent is the season of penance, which is why it’s normally purple. But today we’re breaking out the rose vestments, if you’re lucky enough to have a parish with a set of these.

I suspect many priests won’t wear rose because they think of it as ‘pink’. Also, in some cases it matches their complexions too closely, and they become The Big Pink Thing at the Altar.

(There is probably a Catholic children’s book waiting to be written with that title, but I can’t think how this book would be either edifying or helpful.)

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It’s a shame if you’ve got purple this weekend, because rose is the liturgical colour of ‘Give me a break’. It’s the little spot of delight – the reminder of good things to come – in the middle of penance.

Many Catholics often need a reminder that the Cross is not the endpoint and purpose of Christian existence. It’s actually the Resurrection.

The Cross is real. The day after Christmas is the feast of Christianity’s first martyr. Much of the week after Christmas is draped in blood-red vestments.

“We’re actually told to rejoice always by St Paul, because the Lord is near. Yes, it’s hard to do that sometimes.”

The Cross is also the thing that makes suffering make sense. But the Cross itself doesn’t make sense unless you also remember and believe in the Resurrection.

The Cross by itself would be the basis of a religion of sadism and masochism, and certainly that’s what some people think Christianity is – all long faces and torture and unhappiness apparently for its own sake.

It’s only when you realise that the Cross was just the key to the door that it all makes sense. What really matters is what’s beyond that door.

That’s where you will spend eternity – not with the Cross for company, but with Love Himself, in an eternal marriage that really lives up to the faint and transient promise of human marriage.

If the practice of your religion is making you unhappy, you’re doing it wrong. A wise priest told me once that “Sadness is not a Christian virtue”, and he was right.

We’re actually told to rejoice always by St Paul, because the Lord is near. Yes, it’s hard to do that sometimes.

You’re tired, you’re worried about keeping your job, you have an addiction or compulsion you can’t seem to conquer, and you are afraid of the future.

Roman soldiers drag a beaten down Jesus through the grounds of the adjacent school to the oval where the final stations of Our Lord’s Passion were emotionally depicted. Photo: Mat De Sousa
Roman soldiers drag a beaten down Jesus through the grounds of the adjacent school to the oval where the final stations of Our Lord’s Passion were emotionally depicted. Photo: Mat De Sousa

This Sunday has another important theme – the need to take courage. Anxiety (when you live in the future far too much) is rife even among people of faith today.

And yet the future you imagine doesn’t exist. It may never exist. The moment where God touches your life is the present – that moment of Now.

The cure for this kind of anxiety is trust in God. Even momentary trust in God can alleviate anxiety about all sorts of issues.

This is real faith. There’s no science behind it. There’s no data except your own beating heart and racing mind, and God waiting patiently right next to you. This is often where the rubber meets the road for many Catholics. They think they trust God, until things get sticky and don’t go their way.

The perfect marriage falls apart. But then the spouses have a chance to dismantle the Potemkin Village they’ve built via social media and start facing their real problems together.

The child becomes sick, and then dies, despite the many novenas. But then the parents might go back to sit at the feet of God and ask questions of Him that they may never have done otherwise.

“Things have a way of working out if you are willing to trust the one Being who really does know all the ins and outs of the situation.”

It’s that, or walk away. And many Catholics walk away, because we’re secretly very controlling, and we don’t really trust God at all.

Stirring up the gift of fortitude in your soul is a great Advent thing to do. You all received it when you were confirmed.

Fortitude isn’t about feeling brave. It’s about being brave, which is something often done by very frightened people.

An equally wise nun used to say to me, when I was tying myself in knots being ultra-organised, only for things to fail: “See? God arranges everything.” And she was right.

Things have a way of working out if you are willing to trust the one Being who really does know all the ins and outs of the situation. He makes the best plans.

God’s timing is perfect. It isn’t our timing, but it’s still perfect.

With trust in God and the grace of fortitude, what should we fear? Then we can rejoice, and prepare for Christmas with quieter hearts.

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